by Lorraine Kay
January 2006 – For most EM musicians the ARP 2600 has been an unattainable treasure. With only 3000 ever created the possibilities of ownership are pretty slim. But thanks to one Southern California software engineer the next best thing is now available.
Jim Heintz, founder of Way Out Ware, has created a softsynth of the ARP 2600 called TimewARP 2600. And according to Jim Michmeruizen, the one person who knows the ARP 2600 better than anyone on the planet with the exception of Alan R. Pearlman, creator of the ARP 2600, it is impossible to tell the two apart. As the creator of the ARP 2600 manual, Michmerhuizen authoritatively declares the TimewARP 2600 is, “completely indistinguishable in its behavior from the original hardware.”
According to Heintz, he also received the blessing of the ARP 2600 creator himself when he met with Pearlman in Boston. “Alan Pearlman has really taken a kind of fatherly role in this project. He firmly believes in taking this technology into the digital realm.”
Heintz earned the respect and support of the two men as he proved the TimewARP 2600 was true to the ARP 2600. According to Heintz, Michmerhuizen, who Heintz had asked to write the manual for TimewARP 2600 as he had for the ARP 2600, at first was skeptical.
“I had a couple of trick questions to ask him,” Michmerhuizen agreed, “because I had over the years experienced quite a bit of disappointment with other software synthesizers of one sort or another and had turned down a couple of invitations to write instruction manuals for products that as far as I could see didn’t satisfy me or my standards.”
The first question had to do with the behavior of envelope generators in the analog world. “My experience of the behavior of digitally constructed envelope generators was that they led to horribly unmusical glitches when you repeated a note under certain circumstances. I also had a question about the audio frequency modulation of control inputs on anything. One of the weaknesses of implementation of most synthesizers is that they just can’t sustain audio frequency modulation. They misbehave. They simply don’t act the way a proper analog module would act. And that means that every patch in an analog world that depends on an effect like that simply can’t be created in the digital world. But Jim answered all my trick questions correctly. His approach to all of this was to demand perfection – to demand the highest quality of emulation in his own work. So we struck up a relationship and I wrote the manual for him.”
Way Out Ware went to extreme lengths to absolutely represent the ARP 2600. They achieved not only ultimate sound quality, but also playability and usability with no latency issues just like the analog environment.
“As I said before,” said Heintz, “we had to go back to the beginning of the mathematics and we reinvented pretty much everything in the synthesizer from the ground up. This is not built like any other softsynth. This is built probably more like an analog synthesizer, modeled in mathematics. Then like some sort of a synthesizer algorithm shaped into something that looks and sounds like an analog. This is ground up, brand new technology.”
Way Out Ware did more than recreate the ARP 2600, they made it better. Among other new features, TimewARP 2600 is polyphonic. The original ARP 2600 was a monophonic instrument. TimewARP 2600 can be played in monophonic mode, but TimewARP 2600 can provide eight times the fun with eight voice polyphony playing all of those classic patches with multiple voices for the first time.
The first release of TimewARP 2600 is an RTAS plug-in and runs under Digidesign Pro Tools 6.1 and later versions on either Apple OSX or Windows XP. Future platforms including TDM, Audio Unit, and Windows VST are planned for release in the first half of 2005.
So, for a couple of hundred bucks, instead of the few thousand or more you would spend for the ARP 2600, assuming you could find one that someone would be foolish enough to part with, you can have the next best thing. Currently, the software is being sold online through Way Out Ware’s web site.